10 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO

Tokyo is busy, colorful, bright and wonderful. The Japanese capital will blow your mind and it just takes getting off the plane to realize that. At first, the excess of billboards, lights and signs you cannot read will overwhelm you. But you’ll be soon marveled by the whole thing and will definitely miss it when you return home. Tokyo is a big city and comparable to New York or London in terms of the trillion things there are to do; it’s just never ending. My goal is to give you an overview of the main attractions to visit as a tourist with no time to spare. Hope you enjoy Tokyo as much as I did!

tsujiki market
Sushi being prepared a Tsukiji Fish Market

Visit the world’s most famous fish market

Tsukiji Fish Market, located in the neighborhood of Ginza, is the biggest fish and seafood market in the world. It’s most famous because of the tuna auction that takes place here everyday at dawn. Visitors are allowed to the tuna auction but be warned that it requires you to queue at inconvenient hours of the night (before 3AM depending on the time of year). Alternatively, you can go early in the morning (around 8AM) to browse the market stalls and have some sushi for breakfast. As to which stall to eat in, Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai are the most popular ones. If the queues are way too long, just try any other; all of them are wonderful and probably the best sushi you will ever have! For full details, including opening times, check this article.

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CANARY WHARF WINTER LIGHTS 2017

It’s freezing in London, but that didn’t prevent the Canary Wharf Winter Lights guys from creating free entertainment for Londoners. Canary Wharf Winter Lights features 30 amazing light installations throughout Canary Wharf: sculptures, structures and installations from some of the most innovative artists and designers worldwide. It is actually really cool so get your warmest coat and get ready for a 1-2 hr stroll full of light! Do hurry as it is just two weeks long.

How much: It’s FREE, ain’t London cool?

When: Until Friday 27th of January 2017, from 4pm to 9pm

Where: Canary Wharf tube station Jubilee Line. See map of attractions below:

canary wharf winter lights map

Favorite installations:

Ovo: egg shaped sculpture that shoots of vapor – great photo material

Angels of Freedom: Lighted angel wings that change their color and make a nice postcard

The garden of floating words: the name says it all

Light bench: another self explanatory name

Cathedral of Mirrors: 12 towers with moving lights that respond to visitors using sensors

Water wall: a mist screen with constantly moving objects, also allows visitors to interact and paint on the mist canvas by moving

Huge Reeds: vertical tubes with light sapping top to bottom

AND MY TWO FAVORITES

Horizontal Interference: horizontal lighted straps linking trees in a psychedelically marvelous way

Bloom: cute little balls of light and sound which coordinate themselves with changes in ambiance

DON’T MISS THIS! If you did, were curious about it and got this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. And hey, you’ll make it next year! I’m sure there will be another one. Last year we had Lumiere in Kings Cross in January, this year Winter Lights at Canary Wharf…we’ll need to wait until 2018 then!

If you want to see the full list of installations/sculptures you can always visit the Official website.

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12 things to know before going to Japan

Visiting for the first time: 12 things to know before going to Japan

Japan is a wonderful country, you’ll soon fall in love with it’s culture and how different it is from the “Western World”. If you are traveling to this destination soon and would like to know a little bit more in order to not be caught off guard or be out of line, here are a few things to know.

Greeting = bowing & eye contact to be avoided

Hugging, touching or even hand shakes are generally a no-no in Japan. What instead? Bowing! You may not be used to this custom but you’ll be in no time. The lower the bow the more respect shown; there are books about bowing but no need to read them. Just do it! You won’t be off. Also, Japanese consider prolonged eye contact to be rude. The rule is keep it to 25%!

English is extremely limited

This was the case all over Japan, but don’t worry, you’ll get by. Many times the people I interacted with understood me and just nodded and pointed out where what I needed was, or mentioned some basic words in English. Worst case scenario, use google translate and show the word in Japanese. It’s really handy to know or understand some basic words though, I literally used “arigato gozaimasu” (a-ree-ga-tou go-zai-mass), which means thank you, every five seconds.

Smoking cigarettes on the streets is not allowed

I mean it is, but only in designated areas which is quite funny. What surprised me is that some bars do allow you to smoke inside (or have designated areas). Normal restaurants don’t.

Tipping is non-existent

Although this may sound crazy for some, specially Americans, it’s true. In a few occasions I dared to give a tip. I already knew about the tipping etiquette but just said f* it, I’ll try. Every time they insistently turned it down, even if they had just given me a free tour. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

Say hi to chopsticks!

You will probably find no alternatives in most places, so do try to learn how to use them. There is chopstick etiquette as well, but I didn’t know about it and I was fine – just don’t do crazy stuff with them.

Cherry blossom season

The cherry blossom season or “Sakura” forecast is usually released mid Jan–but generally the season opens somewhere in Japan early March and closes somewhere else in Japan in late April. Keep in mind that the season in each location is usually shorter. If you are serious about seeing the cherries, research: just google “cherry blossom forecast”.

Toilets are amazingly technologic

Seriously, definitely something you haven’t seen before, they splash water in various different forms, intensities, temperatures, throw air – you can heat your toilet seat, and the funniest one, you can trigger soothing water noises or flushing noises. You’ll also see that most of them are from a brand called “TOTO”, it’s kind of a monopoly they have. So funny.

Matcha, matcha, matchaaaa….

Matcha is becoming increasingly popular worldwide but the matcha frenzy is a million times bigger in Japan! There is matcha everything: latte, ice latte, ice cream, all sort of candies, cakes, biscuits…the offer is just never ending. Make sure you try it all!

japan things to know
Japanese women dressed as geishas having matcha ice cream

Cash is king

Despite being one of the most technologic countries in the world, cash is still the most common form of payment. 90% of the hotels I stayed in had to be paid in cash, some stores don’t accept credit cards, and some ATMs don’t accept foreign cards, so I personally exchanged money in advance and would recommend you to do the same.

It’s expensive

Tokyo is within the most expensive cities in the world, and I found Japan in general very expensive compared to London which is were I live, mainly when it comes to accommodation and eating out. However supermarkets are really cheap so the convenience stores such as Seven Eleven, Lawson & Family Mart quickly became my best friends. Also, big supermarkets sell quite good sushi and food for low prices so do check them out.

things to know before going to Japan
Loads of sushi on a supermarket aisle

 

No trash cans

Japanese consider eating while walking to be rude and trash cans in crowded areas to be dangerous, hence you’ll find it very difficult to throw your trash on the streets. Hold on to your trash until you find one!

 Transport etiquette

You’ll notice no one talks on the subway. Talking loudly in public places is considered rude, so keep a low voice. Also, there are women only carriages on the subway which you will easily identify by a sign on the floor, just be alert.

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11 things to do while in Havana – Cuba

Havana was the first city I visited in Cuba and was definitely one the highlights. Everything hear about Cuba comes alive in this city, but you realize it’s much more than what you heard! Riding from the airport I couldn’t help having my eyes open like an owl watching the old buildings and the colorful cars. It’s like a different world, no, more like being in a different time, almost 70 years ago.

11 things to do in Havana

Walk around Havana Vieja

One of the 15 municipalities of the city, Havana Vieja (Old Havana) is probably what will stay in your mind as the postcard of Havana. All I recommend is walking, walking, walking and getting it all in. This is the most touristy place of the city so you’ll find lots of restaurants and souvenirs.

Admire the beautiful Capitolio and then walk through the Parque Central where you’ll be able to get a ride on a Taxi Particular. These are the famous 1950 cars that make Cuba what it is. These taxis are shared so don’t be surprised if someone gets in! Take a good look at the buildings at Plaza de la Catedral. Next to it you’ll find the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. After that, go to the Plaza de Armas where you’ll find a book market full of hidden gems from the times of the “Revolución”. My favorite photo spots were the Plaza Vieja, and the Museo de la Farmacia Habanera which is an old but pictoresque pharmacy.

Plaza Vieja - Havana
Plaza Vieja

Take a stroll along the Malecon

El Malecón is a 5 mile seafront esplanade which spans through Havana Vieja to the neighborhood of Vedado. You can enjoy El Malecón all day. During daytime you will find eager fishermen looking for the catch of the day. At sundown the locals will start popping up for a twilight promenade, and you may be able to enjoy some live music as well! What I liked the most was looking at the beautiful, sometimes crumbling, buildings lined along the seafront. Among them you’ll find the majestic Hotel Nacional.

El Malecon - Havana
El Malecon

Visit the colorful Callejón de Hammel

This funky, street art rich alley was built to represent the afrocuban culture in Havana. I have to say it was music for my eyes, one of my favorite places in the city, and as it’s visually rich, a treasure for photographers.

Callejon de Hammel - Havana
Callejon de Hammel

Drink many mojitos!

The mojitos you’ll have won’t be special because they are from Cuba, but because you’ll drink them in special places! Your mojito stops:

1) “La Bodeguita del medio” a typical Cuban restaurant which has its walls filled by memorabilia of the visitors who made it famous: Pablo Neruda, Salvador Allenda, and tons more. Although it’s said Hemingway, who lived many years in Cuba, wasn’t a regular you can find his inscription “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” in the restaurant. 2) “El Floridita”, were Hemingway was a regular, have a mojito or a daiquiri, whatever you fancy! 3) “Hotel Ambos Mundos” where Hemingway resided. Its terrace has a restaurant where you can enjoy a mojito while you take in the view of the city of Havana.

La Bodeguita del Medio - Havana
La Bodeguita del Medio

Stay at a Casa Particular

As explained on my previous post there are many reasons to stay in a Casa Particular instead of a hotel. My casa in Havana was amazing. I not only had a great stay but made a friend and learned loads of interesting things about the city. This is the casa I stayed in. Tamara is lovely and she’ll help you with everything you need. Be mindful that she books really in advance.

Have an ice cream at “Coppelia”

Although it’s not about the ice cream! Coppelia is a state run Cuban Revolution ice cream parlour built under modernist influence in 1966. It’s one of the largest ice cream parlours in the world serving around 35000 ice creams a day! Its construction was instructed by Fidel, a propaganda move with the aim of bringing the dairy delight to the masses. You’ll find the queues to be eternal – locals can wait more than 3 hours to get ice cream. Luckily, tourists have a fast track queue but pay a higher price.  Although the ice cream is not bad, the experience is about the place as a symbol and it’s wonderful architecture.

Ride on one of the 1950’s cars

Ok so the 1950s cars are the only cars in Cuba, there aren’t new cars, they simply do not exist! And therefore these cars are all you see. The cars belong to the people or descendants of the people that bought them before the revolution. Anyways, if you need to go somewhere, go on a ride on one of them. You can get help from someone in your casa particular. Make sure you are not being ripped off if you are taking a longer ride, and negotiate the price. If you are traveling shorter distances you can also take a coco taxi (a coconut shaped yellow motorbike powered taxi) as it’s cheaper.

Vintage Car - Havana

Learn about Cuba’s revolution

Visit the Museo de la Revolucion. Although a little overpriced and worn down for what it offers, you can’t go to Cuba without understanding the revolution and why Cuba is what it is and looks how it looks like today. So do try to pop by the museum early on your visit. After that, don’t forget to pay a visit to the Plaza de la Revolucion, where you’ll find Che’s and Fidel’s famous murals.

See “el cañonazo de las nueve”

Make your way to the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, a huge fort built by Spain in the 1700 and used throughout Cuba’s history as military complex and prison. This is were Che Guevara established himself as a commander in 1959, and where he ordered the executions of Batista’s supporters after the Revolution. You’ll find a lot of content about Che here. I’d recommend you visit the fort towards the evening, to see “el cañonazo de las nueve” or the tradition to fire a cannon everyday at 9PM. In the past, this signified the opening of the gates of the city. Today, the tradition lives on to amuse tourists and locals.

Walk or ride through “la 5ta avenida”

…or 5th avenue, located in the exclusive barrio of Miramar in Havana. This exclusive neighborhood was where the Cuban high class used to reside before 1959, and it’s filled with sumptuous mansions with pools & patios, yatch clubs and social clubs. This street, considered one of the most beautiful in Cuba, makes for a nice walk or taxi drive, as it’s quite long. Look out for the Fuente de las Americas (America’s Fountain) and the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower).

 Buy some souvenirs on an artisan market

Pop by Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market for some original art or some cheesy Che Guevara souvenirs! I found this place to have good variety and options.

 

 

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